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Survivor of child abuse shares story to strengthen others

Photo Credit: Sarah Jaeger

SHIAWASEE COUNTY, Mich. -- Marissa Koepplinger was around 9 years old when the abuse started. She was at a relatives house and says at first, she didn’t even realize it was happening.

"He touched me," says Koepplinger. "There was emails. There was trying to force me to do things. I never actually did things with that person."

The abuse put her in a state of depression.

"I would always hide in my room, only come out for dinner," says Koepplinger. "I’d cry a lot."

Koepplinger says she didn't tell anyone what was going on for four years.

"Nobody really believed me. They kind of put me at blame and said I made up the whole story."

"The way society focuses on victims of child abuse or child sexual assault tends to blame the victims," says Marvel Mulholland, a crisis counselor at the Child Advocacy Center.

"If you know people aren’t going to believe you how are you supposed to tell your story," say Koepplinger.

Then, one day, her mother found something disturbing on her cell phone.

"I actually yelled at her and was like if you had understood what had happened to me and it kind of just all spiraled out from there," says Koepplinger.

Her mom and stepdad alerted authorities who then reached out to the Child Advocacy Center in Shiawassee County.

"The children, the teens that I see are very courageous," says Mulholland. "Sometimes we refer to them as child savers because that’s what they’re doing. They’re saving the next child from abuse."

Koepplinger completed six months of counseling at the center and she wasn't alone.

"When a child comes in they bring a supportive adult who’s not involved in the abuse," says executive director Ellen Lynch.

For Koepplinger, that person was her mom.

"She supports me was that one person that’s been with me since it all happened," says Koepplinger. "I don’t know what I would do without her."

Her mother was in court the day her daughter's abuser was brought to trial. He eventually plead guilty.

"As that person with that on my shoulders that’s all you think about," says Koepplinger.

Fast forward a few years, and she's a thriving college student, studying special education at Saginaw Valley State University.

"Now I barely think about it anymore."

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